Island of Lemurs: Madagascar (G). Morgan Freeman uses his most authoritative tones to narrate this nature documentary. At only 39 minutes, and in Imax 3-D format, it will be an excellent sit-down diversion for kids 8 and older on a trip to the National Museum of Natural History. The topic is the long-tailed, saucer-eyed, utterly charming lemurs of Madagascar. Kids will be astonished at the story of how lemurs probably floated from Africa to Madagascar during a storm some 60 million years ago. The filmmakers’ lenses get in close to show the lemurs caring for their young, leaping from tree to tree, “dancing” across the ground and calling to one another. “Island of Lemurs” makes a strong, if awfully repetitive, case for saving the lemurs’ dwindling habitat on the island, the only place on Earth where they live other than zoos.
THE BOTTOM LINE: Scenes in which the lemurs’ forest habitat burns or scenes in which human scientists capture lemurs to study them might briefly unsettle kids under 10, though the film does not show lemurs being hurt.
Ernest & Celestine (PG). A gruff bear and a brave mouse defy prejudice and forge a friendship in this charming animated treat from Europe. With its sketchlike, color-washed style, the film (based on books by Belgian writer-illustrator Gabrielle Vincent) should appeal to kids 8 and older, especially those who love making art. Some scenes may be too intense for viewers younger than 8. In a small, snowy town, bears rule aboveground and mice live below in a separate civilization. Fear of bears is drummed into all mice, while bears view mice as filthy, but edible. Celestine, a young mouse, is on assignment to steal a bear cub’s baby tooth. The bear cub’s candy-store-owner dad catches Celestine and dumps her in the trash. Ernest, a broke and hungry bear rummaging in the trash can, finds her. She talks him out of eating her and into raiding the candy store. They become best pals, living in Ernest’s cabin, where Celestine indulges her love of drawing. All is well, until the police catch them.
The bottom line: Scenes showing Celestine and Ernest captured by bear and mouse police, held in jail, interrogated and put on trial are quite dark.
Captain America: The Winter Soldier. It’s good to stop and consider one’s moral options, even in an action movie, but this sequel does too much of that, unfolding in fits and starts. Teen fans of Marvel Comics films will savor it anyway, because of its winning characters and sharp repartee. They’ll forgive the slow bits and the hardware-heavy special effects. Captain America, a.k.a. Steve Rogers, played as a classic all-American hero by Chris Evans, has been thawed out and awakened from his long sleep after World War II. Now it’s the near future of our 21st century. Steve has a crisis of conscience over his boss, Nick Fury, the head of the secret agency S.H.I.E.L.D., and the violent methods he uses. Suddenly, Steve doesn’t know whom to trust. Fury is sidelined and a government bigwig may not be reliable. So Steve teams with Natasha, a.k.a. the Black Widow, and Sam Wilson, a.k.a. Falcon, to find the truth and, incidentally, save humankind.
THE BOTTOM LINE: High-speed chases punctuated by deafening gun battles and other explosions earn the PG-13 rating, though fatalities are portrayed bloodlessly unless they involve important characters. The script includes occasional use of the S-word and gently implied sexual innuendo.
Noah. A flawed but wholly involving and impressive epic, Darren Aronofsky’s “Noah” paints a stunning, intimate portrait of a man burning with religious and moral zeal. There’s no reason why teens, devout or not, wouldn’t be pulled into this compelling saga. The film makes vivid the Old Testament tug-of-war between good and evil. True, the clothing looks oddly modern; the fallen angels who help Noah build the ark have a “Transformers” look about them; and the violent descendant of Cain who stows away on the Ark may give biblical scholars the hiccups. But Russell Crowe’s Noah, with his somber, stubborn goodness, makes you believe that his orders come straight from the Creator, as all the characters call the Deity.
The bottom line: “Noah” contains a lot of violence — clubbings, stabbings, lethal fights, the killing of animals — though not much blood or gore. The film also includes a nongraphic childbirth scene with a lot of screaming. There are a couple of nongraphic sexual situations.
Cesar Chavez. Labor unions are so far out of the picture these days that a film such as “Cesar Chavez” offers a fine dose of dramatic realism and history for teens. This sensitively acted account never feels like a docudrama; its characters are full-blooded and human. The movie dramatizes events of the 1960s in California when Cesar Chavez, using nonviolent protests and grass-roots organizing, formed the United Farmworkers union. He eventually got reluctant grape growers and other farmers to raise wages and improve working conditions for laborers in the fields. Michael Peña as Chavez nails the man’s soft-spoken determination.
THE BOTTOM LINE: One farmworker is shot during a demonstration. Others are hit with sticks, sprayed with insecticide or tear gas, sometimes arrested and jailed. The script includes occasional strong profanity.
Horwitz is a freelance writer.